How Indian Lawyers Can Practice in USA?
As per the rules of the Court of Appeals for the Admission of Attorneys and Counselors at Law, lawyers who have trained from a common law jurisdiction and have experience of more than two years can submit their law degrees for review and analysis, and if this process is successful, then they will not be required to take the Bar exam.
This rule is only applicable to Indian students. However, it is easier said than done because the review process by the American Bar Association (ABA) can really take a long time, as much as a year. Also, there is no guarantee that the degree will be approved.
What is the alternative?
As per the rules, those who qualified from a non-common law jurisdiction, or who did not pursue a 2-year law degree, need to pursue an LLM degree in the US, to be eligible to take the exam. This is the option that most Indian lawyers choose to obtain the US qualification.
In the US, each state has different requirements. So before practicing, you need to research in which state you are hoping to practice. Some states require you to hold the Juris Doctor (JD) degree accredited by the American bar association, while other states might allow you to appear for the bar exam without earning a degree. There is no general licence to practice law in the US.
Why Should I Take the US Bar Exam?
Most international students choose to pursue an LLM degree in the US, so they can sit for the bar exam. If the student passes the exam, they will be allowed to practice law as a fully admitted lawyer in the state where they cleared the exam.
Taking the Bar as a Foreign-Trained Lawyer:
It can be challenging for foreign-trained lawyers to sit for the bar exam in the US. In most states, a JD degree is required to sit in the bar exam. But there are some states which do allow foreign law graduates to sit for the bar exam, including New York, California, Washington, Virginia, Alabama, Georgia.
It is a popular place for foreign-trained attorneys who wish to practice in the US, and the regulations of this state facilitate this process. The New York Board of Law Examiners administers the New York Bar Exam, and they have a specific set of requirements required to be fulfilled by the foreign-trained lawyers to practice in New York.
If a foreign-trained lawyer has at least completed a 3-year duration of the program and focused on English common law, then they can appear for the bar after they receive an Advance Evaluation of Eligibility from the Board.
California is another good option for foreign-trained lawyers to practice law. The procedure of California is quite similar to that of New York; in fact, compared to New York, it has relatively more liberal admission requirements for foreign lawyers. If you meet the requirements of the state, it will be easier for you to sit for the California bar exam, as compared to New York. Even foreign-trained lawyers who admit to practicing law in a jurisdiction outside the US are also eligible to take the California bar exam without any inconveniences.
The foreign-trained lawyers who have not been admitted to practice outside the US are still eligible to sit for the bar exam after completing their LLM degree program. It is essential that the program must cover four separate subjects that are tested on the California Bar Exam.
As we have already discussed, each state has its own regulations on how a foreign-trained lawyer can qualify to practice in the US. Out of the fifty states, there are 34 jurisdictions where foreign-trained lawyers have an opportunity to gain admission to the bar.
Apart from California and New York, an LLM degree would also allow a foreign-trained lawyer to give the bar exam in Wisconsin and Washington state. The remaining 29 jurisdictions where foreign-trained lawyers are eligible to take the bar exam have different regulations to appear in the bar exam. The requirements for each state are listed on their official website.
Law is a very competitive profession in the United States, and quite a difficult profession to crack for foreign-trained lawyers. Foreign-trained attorneys are at a disadvantage when compared to students who earned a degree in the US, especially at the time of taking state bar admission.
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